Georgia Young Republicans Are Using a Different Approach to Grow Membership

Rob Lee says the difference between those under 40 and their elders is the difference between rabbit ears and 500 channels of cable TV. Lee, who is chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans, was trying to explain how the GOP can get the support of millennials who, he said, have a different context for understanding the conservative experience. His point was that those who grew up in the days of rabbit ears and three network stations shared a generalized experience, where people watched the same shows. Young people, on the other hand, have hundreds of channels to choose from, each appealing to specific interests, from European football to cooking. They can choose to watch channels the closely match their interests.

Georgia Young Republicans Chairman Rob Lee.  Photo: Jon Richards
Georgia Young Republicans Chairman Rob Lee. Photo: Jon Richards
That push towards individualized experiences makes young people less trustful of the institutions and communities that bound together baby boomers and members of the silent generation. From a political standpoint, that means fewer are affiliating with a party. Around 50% of millennials are independents, compared to 30% of older generations. While climbing through the Republican Party hierarchy by attending meetings and supporting candidates is important to their elders, young people are driven by individual relationships.

So, instead of asking someone under age 40 how long they have been a Republican or how conservative he or she might be, Republicans can build engagement by asking what a person’s name is, and what is important to them. Then, build a relationship based off of that. Lee says that an approach based on personal interests is a perfect fit for Republicans, who prioritize the power of the individual over the identity politics practiced by Democrats.

That’s what the Georgia Young Republicans are trying to do. Lee says the group’s mission is to create an environment where members and guests can develop their personal, political and professional skills, relationships, and understanding of the world. That approach, which Lee and his executive board have tried to emphasize since taking office in May, seems to be working. A new chapter was started in southeast metro Atlanta encompassing Rockdale and Newton counties, and the Forsyth County YRs are rebranding themselves as the North Metro Young Republicans, covering Cumming, Alpharetta and Johns Creek. The group’s strategic plan for 2016 includes chartering new chapters in Albany and Brunswick / St. Simons Island.

Lee says the individualized approach to politics means that it’s more important to value shared principles, as opposed to shared policies or tactics. He cites the pro-life movement as an example. While some may think the focus should be overturning Roe vs. Wade, others want to emphasize promoting adoptions, supporting single parent families, or stopping the death penalty. All of these policies, he points out, are pro-life. It’s also important, he says, to connect with like-minded people on issues that have nothing to do with politics. Building a relationship with another Republican based on a common interest in a sports team or a shared hobby makes that relationship stronger.

What type of common non-political interest, you ask? That would be Star Wars. “What brings Republicans together more than watching the Death Star being destroyed?” Lee muses. He has arranged for a private screening of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens this Saturday, the day after the film’s official release. If you are a dues paying member of a Georgia YR chapter, you get in for free. If not, a ticket is $10, or $5 for College Republicans. You can get full details and order tickets here. If you would like to support the YRs, there is information on sponsorships at the same link.

The GYR Twitter account reports the showing is almost sold out, so if you want to attend, you should probably sign up soon. Good luck, and may the force be with you.